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10/17/2011 5:33 AM EDT
Bucs even with Saints in NFC South after 26-20 win
TAMPA BAY 26, NEW ORLEANS 20

By KYLE HIGHTOWER
Associated Press

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) -- Tampa Bay coach Raheem Morris went into
Sunday's matchup against New Orleans knowing it would be
difficult to slow down the Saints' red-hot offense.

So the Bucs relied on Plan B: Keep the New Orleans offense off
the field as much as possible and hope for a few mistakes.

They accomplished both in a 26-20 win over the Saints that put
them back in the chase for the NFC South title.

Josh Freeman threw for 303 yards and two touchdowns, Earnest
Graham ran for 109 yards in place of injured starter LeGarrette
Blount and the defense held its own against Saints quarterback
Drew Brees.

The win pulled the Bucs (4-2) into a first-place tie with the
Saints in the NFC South and snapped New Orleans' four-game
winning streak.

It also gave Tampa Bay some momentum heading into one of its
toughest stretches of the season.

"For us, it was our mindset right away," Morris said. "We knew
we were 3-2 and we knew what they were, and we knew we had the
ability to take over the lead being 2-0 in the division."

Brees did become the first passer with four consecutive 350-yard
games, but had three interceptions. The Saints also had a fumble
and were held to only 70 yards rushing.

Even without defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, the Bucs' defense
was able to keep constant pressure on Brees. An offense that
came in having outscored Tampa Bay 69-13 in its past two visits
to Raymond James Stadium appeared out of sync and rushed.

"I thought they played great today," Brees said. "They took the
ball away four times, which if you do that you're going to win a
lot of games. We gave it away four times. The fact of the matter
is that will get you beat."

The Saints (4-2) came in relatively healthy, but lost their
coach and offensive architect in the opening minutes of the game
when Sean Payton got tangled up in a collision with New Orleans
tight end Jimmy Graham. Payton got his left leg caught under
Graham as he was tackled on the sideline, suffering a torn
ligament and a broken bone in the process.

He spent the second half in the training room watching the game
via television and gave the play-calling duties to offensive
coordinator Pete Carmichael. Payton will have surgery on the
knee Monday and will begin rehabilitation immediately afterward.

He was not available for comment afterward, but Graham said he
was in good spirits.

"I talked to him and said 'My bad.' He said 'No, it's not your
fault. You're the one fighting for the first down."' Graham
said. "I had a couple of guys on me ... Next thing I know I'm
rolling under Sean and he's on the ground."

Despite all their miscues and misfortune, the Saints had a
chance to take the lead late, but Brees was intercepted in the
end zone on fourth down.

The Bucs led 23-13 heading into the fourth quarter until Mark
Ingram's 12-yard run capped a seven-play, 82-yard drive and
pulled the Saints within a field goal.

Tampa Bay pushed it back to 26-20 on Connor Barth's 38-yard
field goal with 7:54 left, opening the door for the Saints. But
with a fourth-and-2 on the 4, Brees' pass was intercepted by
safety Quincy Black. The Bucs then put the ball in Graham's
hands and were able to run out the clock.

The Saints' first drive of the game ended when Ingram's fumble
was scooped up by Da'Quan Bowers and Barth kicked a 48-yard
field goal three plays later.

Brees' touchdown pass to Marques Colston on their next
possession put the Saints up 7-3 before the Bucs reeled off 17
unanswered points.

As great as Sunday's win felt, Freeman said they realize there
is still a lot of tweaking to do going forward.

"Today, we didn't play close to our potential," he said. "To get
this win is just one step forward in the direction (and) the
goal that we're headed to."

Much like the Bucs were able to turn the page quickly, so too
must the Saints. And in safety Malcolm Jenkins' mind, it begins
with eliminating the most pronounced deficiency they had Sunday
- turnovers.

"We can't expect to win like that," Jenkins said. "We have to
correct that. Defensively, we take this hard on our back because
if we force maybe one or two, this whole game is different."

Notes: Graham had his best rushing game since Sept. 28, 2008,
when he had 111 yards against Green Bay...The Bucs have a 24-4
record since 2002 when they don't commit a turnover...Brees has
completed at least 20 passes in an NFL-record 26 consecutive
games.

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